Homeowners Beware – common pedestrian traffic hazards

I recently inspected a house for a lady (and her attorney) who were in the process of suing a homeowner due to the fact that she was leaving a party at night, fell down the porch steps and broke her ankle in 3 places. I find it very interesting that just about every house I inspect I find pedestrian traffic hazards which can lead to trip and fall injuries.

These shortcomings are obviously important to all residents, especially if there are young children or elderly folks using the facility. So let’s talk about some of the basic rules and current requirements as they relate to where we walk.

1. The minimum width of a hallway should not be less than 3 ft.

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2. No less than one exit should be provided for each living unit with direct access from the habitable portion to the exterior (without having to go through a garage, another living space, or similar).

3. The entrance must be side hinged and not less than 3 ft. in width & 6’8” in height. Secondary doors (swing or sliding) shall not be less than 24” in width and 6’6” in height.

4. There should be a floor or landing on each side of each exterior door (exception: where a stairway of two or less rises service the exterior of a door, like a door wall, a landing is not required at the exterior).

5. Stairways should not be less than 36” in clear width.

6. The minimum headroom on all parts of a stairway shall not be less than 6’8” measured vertically from the corner of the step to the ceiling.

7. The MAXIMUM step height shall be 8-¼” and all steps shall be equal to each other (within a total difference of 3/8” from the highest to the lowest step).

8. The MINIMUM tread depth should be 9” with the greatest tread depth within the flight of stairs not exceeding the shortest by more than 3/8”. Where steps are wider than 36” the tread depth minimum increases to 10”.

9. Handrails should be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads on a flight of 4 or more stairs. Handrails should be continuous for the full flight of stairs. Handrail height should not be less than 34” or more than 38” measured vertically from the corner of any step to the top of the rail.

10. All stairs, hallways, and pedestrian traffic areas should be provided with proper illumination.

11. Porches, balcony’s or raised floor surfaces (such as patio decks) located more than 30” above the ground or floor shall have guardrails not less than 36” in height.

12. Doors shall not swing into a stairway with no landing.

13. There should be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway.

Keep in mind, that all of the above are “modern” requirements and you may find substantial differences in older or historical homes, but these rules give you a basic idea of the areas of concern. When considering pedestrian traffic hazards, don’t forget about raised cracks in concrete, settled sidewalks, loose or tattered carpet, raised door thresholds, casual step-downs, between room to room at doorways (especially prominent in older historical homes where the floors were updated/modified many times), loose or separating stair treads, stairs out of level, loose railings, inadequate lighting, overcrowded rooms, ground burrowing animals in the lawn,, things left laying around (hoses, toys, etc.), tree stumps, slippery surfaces, loose fences or gates, etc., etc…The bottom line is that trip and fall concerns are prevalent, can cause unnecessary injury and pain and in most cases can be easily and economically addressed before they cause a problem.

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